- The Good: Compelling characters; some of whom face the ghosts of their life decisions
- The Bad: Can be slow; pacing is non-traditional; non-linear timeline and multiple POVs require attention
- The Literary: Beautiful prose, intense characterization, intricate narrative
In a remote five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver, Vincent tends bar, regretting taking a job near where she grew up. When the bar’s owner Jonathan Alkaitis comes to visit and pays her a little attention, Vincent sees a way out. After a lush life in Manhattan posing a Jonathan’s wife for several years, Vincent walks away, and Jonathan goes to prison for an international Ponzi scheme.
I love Emily St. John Mandel’s book Station Eleven because of it’s slow Shakespearean take on the post apocalyptic novel. So much so that I picked up The Glass Hotel, a book whose characters talk a lot about money; some of them don’t have it, while the ones who do discuss stocks, the 2008 recession, and the global shipping industry. But describing the plot of either of these novels doesn’t capture the experience of reading them.
The book spans nearly twenty years, flitting back and forth across time, anchored by a single event that separates the world into a before and an after. Several POV characters, including Vincent and her brother Paul, as well as several others connect to Jonathan’s money making endeavor. They are all extremely flawed characters who feel surprisingly real, dealing with past traumas and living with the ghosts of their grief, trying to find a little happiness, or at least trying to minimize their unhappiness.
There is a romanticism associated with living in the post-apocalypse, which is why I think stories in that setting, like Station Eleven, are so popular. A flower blooming on the side of a road surrounded by rusted cars symbolizes the hope for a better future, while at the same time giving a rosy hue to the wealth and power of the past that is gone. Characters who live in dangerous times, can make hard decisions, and if their actions are cruel, they are justified by the world they live in.
Comparatively, characters in The Glass Hotel live in the real world, our world, and the incentives are largely monetary. I don’t begrudge Vincent or the other poor characters to try and find a way to a more comfortable life, but their actions are just a smaller microcosm of the justification that Jonathan has of his own actions for running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme for so long, and why he doesn’t have much guilt about those he ruined.
Both books share enchanting prose, and an ability to find bittersweet themes of loss, and while this one doesn’t have the same magic as the previous, I highly recommend it for the mood and characterization if you are looking for a quiet reflection on life and regret.